Tackling the downturn: Part 2 – Brokering solutions – Focus on strategies

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on fundraising strategies at local United Ways in the face of the economic downturn.

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — As the economy brakes, the United Way of Greater Greensboro is targeting new contributors and coaxing existing donors to dig deeper by matching them with initiatives designed to meet local needs.

That approach builds on the strategic shift the United Way adopted last year, focusing increasingly on broad community goals rather than on member agencies only.

Of the $15.3 million raised in last year’s annual drive, donors earmarked more than $300,000 for goals ranging from preparing youngsters to succeed and promoting safe neighborhoods to boosting economic self-sufficiency and helping older adults live with dignity.

The new strategy helps build long-term relationships with donors, says Neil Belenky, United Way president and chief professional officer.

And with the economy still souring as this year’s drive nears, he says, reaching out to donors will be critical.

The United Way won’t set its goal until later this month, but Belenky concedes the campaign, which kicks off Sept. 12 and will be chaired by Wachovia City Executive Rick Brown, will be tough.

“The economy is going to create tremendous challenges for us,” he says.

An early signal, he said, is the pace at which donors are unable to honor pledges made in last year’s campaign.

The loss is could be as much as 8.5 percent of the total raised, compared with 7.5 percent that the United Way typically budgets for such losses.

“That’s an indication of how things are sliding,” Belenky says.

So the United Way aims to plug into the growing interest on the part of donors in tackling specific issues.

“Increasingly, donors know what their priorities are,” he says. “They’re looking for charities that they know can deliver results on the issues of importance to the donor.”

In particular, the United Way this year will target young companies and those new to the region. Such firms, he says, typically focus on building their businesses, and not necessarily on community issues.

“And that’s compounded when things are going well and there isn’t a sense of urgency about the community,” Belenky says, making economic slides even more challenging.

“For us to be at all successful this year, we’re going to need a much different kind of support from newer companies, and that requires us to do a better job of reaching them,” he says.

The United Way also will target big firms and wealthy individuals for gifts beyond their normal contributions, trying to connect them to initiatives focused on specific needs.

“We’re trying to find investment partners in helping us carry out our mission around very specific projects,” Belenky says, “where we think we can align well with what their other objectives might be, whether as individuals or corporations.”

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